Ed Miliband has drawn a line under the row with Unite – but why were the Guardian fanning the flames?

7th July, 2013 10:47 am

Over the weekend, Ed Miliband drew a line in the row with Unite, whose flames had been fanned all week by the Tory press, which one would expect, but also from others, most notably The Guardian newspaper, whom one wouldn’t. He did so in an article in The Observer, The Guardian’s sister paper, where he explicitly defended Labour’s links with the trade unions. He said that the Labour should ‘mend the relationship, not end it’.

Here is what the Labour leader said:

“the presence of ordinary working people – from shop workers to nurses, engineers to scientists, construction workers to classroom assistants – in a political party should be its biggest asset. To cut these individuals loose would be to make politics more out of touch, not less, more remote from working people.

What people in both the party and the trade unions understand is that far too few of these working people are actively engaged in our party at the local level as individuals. So we should mend the relationship, not end it.”

Compare and contrast what Ed Miliband had to say on Sunday and what Nicholas Watt, a senior Guardian lobby correspondent had to say on Saturday in The Guardian. In an article titled ‘Ed Miliband to explore historic break with trade unions‘, Watt claimed that he was doing so after ‘calls from senior party figures’. For Fleet Street watchers, this time honoured practices of hanging a story full of supposition on un-named sources is one of the sloppiest  and most unprofessional around. And here is how Watt packaged his extraordinary claim – one which was incidentally denied by Ed Miliband’s office as soon as it was published; a denial not carried by The Guardian.

According to Watt ‘the former cabinet minister said:

“We need to have a commission that looks at the union link. All the general secretaries need to sign up to it. We need to get to a place where you simply have one category of Labour party members. There should no longer be a formal union affiliation.”

So who was this ‘former Cabinet Minister’? Who were these ‘senior party figures’?  We don’t know because Watt won’t tell us. But then these quotes were dribbled into his ear on the basis that the ex Minister or the senior party sources wouldn’t be named. They would of course have no doubt had the satisfaction of knowing that they had caused yet more problems for Ed Miliband, the Labour Party and the trade unions.

But then another adjective has featured prominently in the reporting of Watt and his colleague Patrick Wintour in The Guardian of late and that is; ‘the ‘re-casting’ of Labour’s relations with the unions’.  I suspect that they have had something rather different in mind to what Ed Miliband has. Wintour has quoted at length from his old buddy Lord Mandelson throughout the Falkirk farrago, which is also interesting because neither had read the now infamous Labour Party internal report into Falkirk, now with the police.

The editor of The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger used to talk glowingly of the professional journalistic practices of the New York Times. He was quite right, for the NYT would never allow the sort of fusion of news with comment that so casually litters the The Guardian. Nor would it allow sources to be quoted without being named, unless there was a particularly good reason to do so.

So we are left with some intriguing possibilities to explore. The first is that the Falkirk row has been exploited not only by Labour’s traditional enemies, but by ‘senior figures’ in the party. They have worked with friendly journalists, because they have an agenda which they are not really prepared to go public over – to break Labour’s links with the unions.

The second is that they want to de-stabilise Ed Miliband’s leadership of the party. Again the outriders of this political tendency have attacked him for being ‘weak’ and doubtless they will now attack him for not going far enough in distancing the party from the unions.

It is these people; ‘the senior party sources’, the ‘ex Cabinet Minister’ who have helped cause what in reality was a fairly low key controversy over parliamentary selection to hog the national headlines for nearly a week. It is these people, not the Labour leader, not Len McCluskey, who now stand in the way of a Labour victory at the next General Election.

The rest of us though can applaud Ed Miliband for saying all of the right things about trades unionists and trades unionism, although some of may also wish that we will still see natural justice in Falkirk and an exoneration of Len McCluskey and Unite.

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